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LIFE/ Fr. Nagle: The lesson that is coming to us from the Middle East

The catastrophe that has overtaken our brothers and sisters in the Middle East can help us to discover the story of love that makes it possible for us to live with hope. By Fr VINCENT NAGLE

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The days, weeks and months pass and still my thoughts, prayers and sleep are interrupted, or fed, by the memory of those communities, especially Christians, in the highlands of northern Iraq and the refugee areas of Jordan who have lost house, lands and livelihood as well as, often enough, loved ones and friends at the hand of a violent, religious ideology and a fanatical and pitiless horde.

When I remember them and dwell upon what they are living, my comfort and my safety become irksome and even at times loathsome to me. I suspect that I am not so much living as I am hiding, hiding from the evil and pain that have overcome my brother Christians. How can I respond? What should we do? What do these our Christian brothers and sisters need? What do we need?

The answer begins to come to me when I recall an event from my years on the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority. “So, what is it that you need? What is the most important thing?” It was a group of Americans who asked this question to me and the members of the parish council of my parish. At the time I was substitute pastor for St. Justin the Martyr Parish in Nablus, Palestine, and a parish group from America wanted to help us out. We met the Americans in Bethlehem instead of Nablus because at the time Nablus had been for several years a “closed city”; that is to say the Israeli military had erected very large roadblocks controlling who came in and out of the and did not allow any private vehicles either to enter or leave. You had to pass on foot. This situation frightened the Americans and so we travelled to me them in Bethlehem.

When they posed that question to us, “What is your greatest need,” many things ran through my head. The Christian community had counted 5,000 members only a few years before. Now the Christian population was officially around seven hundred, but in fact under six hundred. The Catholics were about three hundred and fifty. They were mostly very poor and felt abandoned and discouraged. I conferred with my group and said to the Americans, “our parish is poor and lacks many things. The people have many pressing needs. But I tell you that the most important need of this community is to know that they are not forgotten or left alone. So, my answer to your question is, ’You.’ We need you. Please come and visit us. Everything else will follow from this. But the first thing is for you to be with us.”